BY KEITH JACKSON
A PUBLIC DISPUTE HAS ERUPTED between Kris Lasslett [left], an academic specialising in the social and political impacts of mining, and Axel Sturm [right], the president of the European Shareholders of Bougainville Copper (ESBC).
It all began when Lasslett wrote of Sturm that he “needs reminding the greatest threat to BCL’s [Bougainville Copper Ltd] future remains its unacknowledged past”, contradicting Sturm’s view that the big problem is PNG’s current political uncertainty.
Now Dr Kris Lasslett is a bright, highly qualified and interesting bloke. He graduated from the University of Technology Sydney in 2004 with a first-class honours degree in law and a BA in communications. He went on to complete a PhD at the University of Westminster in the UK.
Dr Lasslett lectures in criminology at the University of Ulster and his research focuses on the political economy of state crime and civil conflict. He has conducted extensive field work on the Bougainville crisis in Papua New Guinea, and is researching mining, conflict and civil society.
In his article, Lasslett wrote:
Despite revelations aired on SBS last year, which evidenced BCL’s complicity in the brutal security force operations on Bougainville, BCL and the ESBC continue to play down the company’s instrumental role in the conflict.
If the ESBC wish to restore the integrity of BCL, then they should forward the following demands to BCL’s Chairman and Managing Director Peter Taylor:
-- BCL must publicly apologise for its evidenced role in the Bougainville conflict.
-- In an act of goodwill BCL should publicly disclose the depth of its involvement in the security force operations on Bougainville. This public disclosure should document the logistical support BCL supplied to the government’s security forces between December 1988 and March 1990. It should also reveal the relevant conversations that took place between the BCL management and senior state officials during this period.
-- BCL should demand that Rio Tinto – its parent company – cease contesting litigation taken by Bougainvillean landowners in the US, and fully compensate those victimised by the security forces using BCL property/facilities.
-- BCL should immediately remove from its Board of Directors, Sir Rabbie Namaliu who was appointed in March 2011. Sir Rabbie Namaliu was the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea during 1988-1992. Under his Prime Ministership the Papua New Guinea security forces – in an effort to reopen the mine – executed and tortured civilians, systematically destroyed villages, and imposed a blockade on Bougainville, which included the denial of humanitarian aid. It is astonishing, in light of these facts, BCL would appoint Sir Rabbie Namaliu to the Board of Directors, and that the ESBC would support this decision.
As the last ten years has proven, Bougainvilleans are a forgiving people. But they will not suffer corporate intransigence lightly. If BCL comes to the table and publicly acknowledges its role on the Bougainville war, perhaps the healing process can begin. Only then will BCL shareholders find the certainty they demand.
Axel Sturm was outraged. In a public letter to Lasslett his opening salvo of “your disgraceful lampoon is remarkable” was quickly followed by:
It's really shameful if an expert in criminology completely ignores facts and reality. Your naive adoption of statements and claims from rebel groups on the ground disqualify you as an honest scientist. In all your text there is no single word on competing criminal gangs on the ground. You don't refer on intimidation or blackmail. You don't expose neither robbery nor murder committed by these groups. A comparison to mafia or triads structures would be more appropriate.
You even do not hesitate to refer to the infamous California court case that has been initiated by a small group of greedy PNG citizens to raise money from Rio Tinto. No word about the doubtful involvement of former Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare in all this as well. All information on this was made public and is accessible thanks to some leaked documents in the past.
If you ignore facts, you do not deserve to be called a scientist. I suppose that your work in Ulster, a region well known for rebellion and organised crime, troubled your vision. Your text unmasks you as a naive and fanatic anti-mining activist. Unfortunately you are also allowed to spread your ideas amongst young students. You shall not use your academic position as a platform for indoctrination and agitation.
Freedom of research and science does not mean promoting untruth!
I will not further comment on your ideas in future. It’s not worth it.
Powerful stuff, and it seems it's an argument that is likely to rage for a while yet.